A top adviser to the federal government says the elderly are still likely to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine despite a spate of deaths in Norway, and Australians could receive multiple vaccines in a bid to reach herd immunity.
The federal government has urgently sought clarification after 30 elderly Norwegians died after receiving the jab.
Norwegian health authorities have played down the development, saying the deceased were extremely frail and suffering from pre-existing conditions.
The first Australian recipients were set to include the elderly, and Dr Allen Cheng, co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, told The Sydney Morning Herald the developments in Norway were unlikely to change that.
“A lot of things for both vaccines will depend on what the conditions of registration are, so if it says we can safely give it to this particular group of people, then the program would have to be designed around that,” he said.
It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke with Norwegian counterpart Erna Solberg on Monday night as he met with six European leaders to discuss the global pandemic response.
Mr Morrison said the group had met “to review the challenges we face in the months ahead, especially around the vaccine rollout and the emergence of new strains”.
“These meetings continue to be incredibly important to share experiences and swap notes on the challenges of responding to this terrible virus and how we can work together to beat it and prepare for the next pandemic,” he said on Facebook.
“Particularly good to hear from Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway on their vaccine rollout.”
The government plans to begin its COVID-19 rollout next month with the Pfizer vaccine, pending approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said while all information should be assessed, he trusted the TGA to be “cautious” in its approval process.
“We’ve got to consider there have been literally millions of jabs of the Pfizer vaccine … and overwhelmingly it’s going well, it’s having an impact,” he told 5AA.
“We certainly won‘t be won’t be first, far from it. We will be one of the last countries in terms of the industrialised world.”
But Dr Cheng confirmed in a separate interview with The Australian that advisers could recommend a second stage of the vaccine rollout to reach herd immunity if the first brought the virus under control.
The priority was an immediate protection from the disease, but Australians could receive a variety of vaccines in a bid to reach herd immunity, Dr Cheng said.
Early test results suggest the Pfizer vaccine stopped infections more effectively, while the AstraZenenca vaccine had a higher probability of preventing death or serious illness.
“We’re going for protection to start with; we want to stop people getting sick and dying,” Dr Cheng told The Australian.
“That will mean that we will give the vaccine firstly to people who are at the highest risk of getting sick and dying.”
The nation’s vaccine plan has come under fire in recent weeks after drug manufacturer CSL said it could not produce the AstraZeneca and Novavax jabs simultaneously.